Can we Even set Screen Time Limits on Kids During Shutdown? Metro Health Chimes In

Screen time in kids girl on laptop

What is “Healthy” Screen Time for Kids? How Much Screen Time is OK in Today’s Tech World?

COVID-19 has forced us to shift our work habits, communication methods, schedules, doctor appointments and household expectations. What worked for us back in January, isn’t really possible for families right now.

Back in early 2020, my kids had 1 – 2 hours of screen time a day. 

But now that schools are closed during the shutdown, and kids are at home with two parents working from home, screen time rules have flown out the window. 

School alone takes up that 1-2 hours of screen time. Then there’s FaceTime with cousins, Zoom calls with friends and virtual doc visits, not to mention the time they want to unwind with a video game or tv show. 

Boy using screen time to do school work.
Screens often go hand in hand with education.

How do I balance a healthy amount of screen time with my kids when everything is done via screens these days? 

 How do I tell my kid, “Screen time is over,” when they’re laughing on a video call with grandma? Maybe it’s “good” screen time? It’s building a relationship and adding some sunshine to their day. 

Dr. Kurt Meppelink, pediatrician with Metro Health – University of Michigan Health confirms that not all screens are bad. In fact, the use of technology for school is actually a pretty cool development. 

 “I think we are at the point of embracing this increased technology use as future enhancement and a way to supplement children’s education,” explains Dr. Meppelink. 

“The next time schools are closed because of weather, a school power outage or the flu, we will have the tools in place to continue education.”

Okay, so screens are good, then? 

Not exactly.

Parents Still Need to Monitor Kids’ Screen Time

Of course, there can be too much of a good thing. Excessive screen time can cause a lot of trouble for kids.

Symptoms of excessive screen time include frequent headaches, strained and dry eyes, neck or shoulder pain, irritability or aggression

“Children are even at risk for blood clot complications if they’re sedentary for long periods of time,” Dr. Meppelink cautions.

Screen Time Should be Treated Like Your Diet – There are Good Things to Consume and Bad

Finding the right balance, especially now, feels impossible, but Dr. Meppelink has a clever tip: 

Look at screen time like you look at your kid’s diet.

“Everyone knows there are good foods and bad foods. You can’t starve your child and you can’t let them eat to excess. Moderation is consistently the healthiest choice, in regard to both diet and screen time.”

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So How Much Screen Time is OK in Today’s Tech World?

There’s no clear answer here. It varies from family to family, and from kid to kid. 

One of my kids can watch tv for an hour, turn it off when asked, and easily segue to reading or independent play. 

But my other kid turns into Hulk if he’s watched tv for an hour. He cannot turn it off when asked, and once the tv is off, there are major rage issues. 

Dr. Meppelink says to talk to your pediatrician or kid’s teacher if you are concerned about your child’s screen usage. They can direct you on what, and how much, content is appropriate for your child’s age and needs. 

You can also check out The American Academy of Pediatrics’ toolkit, filled with information and guidelines about media usage and children. 

I tested it out and saw that after my preteen finishes school (in a normal, non-COVID scenario), plays with her siblings and does some chores, there isn’t that much time left in the day for screens. I can see how much of her day is spent doing other things and I feel okay if she wants to decompress with some Zelda on her Nintendo.

Occasionally Going off the Rails on Screen Time is Not the End of the World

When every day feels like you’re operating in survival mode, rules need to be renegotiated. And that’s OK. Screen time limits may be an example. 

But, if you can put some thought into your child’s screen time, think about the purpose that screen is serving. Is it educational? Is it driving human connection? Then, consider how much time your child has spent in front of a digital screen that day, and if there are signs of fatigue.

Routines can Give Screen Time in a Healthy Balance

Dr. Meppelink believes establishing a daily routine is key to keeping your child’s activities in check during this time. 

Set routine bedtimes, wake up times, exercise breaks and mealtimes. It will not only create structure for your child and make it clear when screens can be turned on or should be turned off, it will protect your sanity, too.

Give Yourself (and Your Kids) Grace Right Now When it Comes to Screen Usage

The most important thing to remember is to give yourself some grace when it comes to your child’s screen time. We are living through a pandemic. It’s uncharted territory, and we’re all doing our best under the circumstances. 

Parents are filling countless roles right now: caregivers, teachers, employees, spouses and playmate. Consistent stress and anxiety can lead to a downward spiral of your health.

“If you, as a parent or guardian, are turning to unhealthy and addicting substances, feeling depressed or having physical or emotional outbursts, schedule an appointment with your doctor,” Dr. Meppelink says. 

“There’s no shame in seeking help, and at Metro Health, we can see you safely through virtual video visits, phone calls or in-office visits.”

Finally, look for ways to connect as a family: play games, garden, take a bike ride, go for a walk.

“There are some positives to being at home with your family,” Dr. Meppelink concludes. “Families have certainly come together and are spending quality time with one another. 

“We all have a new appreciation for community sacrifice, health care workers, teachers and even technology. Without it, we’d be much more isolated, disconnected, bored and miserable.”

More Smart Tips from Metro Health Docs

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